One of the world’s leading conservation biologists has warned that without greater cooperation between Malaysia and Indonesia the Sumatran rhinoceros will become extinct.
The call for increased urgency follows the death last week of Malaysia’s last male Sumatran rhinoceros, 30-year-old ‘Tam’ at the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Sabah.
The death leaves just one Sumatran rhinoceros alive in Malaysia, a female named ‘Iman’, captured in 2014 for a captive breeding programme.
While a ruptured tumor in Iman’s uterus means she is incapable of breeding, she still produces eggs which can be harvested. It is hoped that these can be fertilised in a laboratory through in vitro fertilisation with sperm from an Indonesian male rhinoceros and then implanted into a surrogate Indonesian female rhinoceros.
Dr Benoit Goossens, director of the Danau Girang Field Centre in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, a research and training facility co-managed by Sabah Wildlife Department and Cardiff University, said time is rapidly running out. “We can already say that the Sumatran rhinoceros is extinct in Malaysia. The only hope now is on Indonesia.
“Sabah has to make the most of the samples (sperms and eggs) collected from rhinoceros’ which have died, including Tam, Puntung, and Gologob, as well as those from Iman, the sole surviving female rhinoceros”, he said.
Political will needed to save Sumatran rhinoceros
Help for the Sumatran rhinoceros may not be that far away, however, as with many such arrangements it comes down to a political will to complete the final stages.
On April 12 2018 Indonesia sent a memorandum of understanding on the the transfer of “genetic material” for use in a captive-breeding attempt to its Malaysian counterpart. However, citing a lack of of viable eggs from Iman, the programme was cancelled last October.
Speaking with AEC News Today via Facebook Messenger, Dr Goossens said he believes Sabah’s Minister of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Christina Liew, is to propose a fresh agreement with Indonesia in June where the gametes from Tam and the oocytes from the female rhinoceros’ can be used for advanced reproduction.
The two countries need to urgently “work together, combine efforts, invest in advanced reproductive technology, and put the breeding rhinoceros’ together”, he said, adding that a failure to do so will guarantee the rapid extinction of the species.
Encouragingly Ms Liew and Dr Goossens appear to be on the same page.
Speaking to Free Malaysia Today following the death of Tam, Ms Liew said it is hoped that a breakthrough by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Germany may result in offspring. However, she noted that talks with Indonesia have been going on for some time, but have not yet yielded results.
The smallest and oldest of the world’s rhinoceros’, the Sumatran rhinoceros — also known as the hairy rhinoceros or Asian two-horned rhinoceros — was once found as far away as eastern India and throughout Malaysia. Habitat loss due to infrastructure development and plantation use has seen the number dwindle to the point that fewer than 50 are thought to be remaining in the wild.
Feature video Borneo Rhino Alliance
- These 7 Animal Species Are Going Extinct in Malaysia And Here’s How It Will Affect Us (World of Buzz)
- The Sumatran rhinoceros – just elusive or near extinction (The Borneo Post)
- As Sumatran rhinos face extinction, scientists come to their rescue (PRI)
She commenced as an intern at AEC News Today and was appointed as a junior writer/ trainee journalist on April 2, 2018